By Sue Hardacre - 23rd September 2014 6:00am
What links 'Puss in Boots' in 1976 with 'Cinderella' in 2002?
What kept 17 young people busy on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening in Feb 1987?
Why is the Edna Rose Room called that?
The answer lies in the extraordinary history of the Tarvin Community Centre Theatre Group that put on at least 32 shows in the years from 1976 until 2002. The W.I. has a wonderful archive of many of the performances and I think the time has come to celebrate this achievement. The group grew out of the need for the committee of the time to raise funds and they were helped by members of the Youth Group, the W.I. Wives Group, Scouts and Guides and the school.
Their first performance was Puss in Boots, and traditional pantomimes formed the backbone of their many shows through the years. However there was also a number of summer 'Strawberry and Wine 'evenings of short plays, sketches and songs to keep the village buzzing.
Edna Rose was one of the founding members and from 1976 was the director of nearly all the productions. Edna was also the Chairman of the Community Centre Committee and a school Governor and it was in recognition of this constancy and huge personal effort on behalf of Tarvin that the Village Room was renamed the Edna Rose Room after her death in1996.
The Theatre Group involved an extraordinary number of people in its heyday. I found the cast list for Sinbad in 1986 and counted the following:
Main cast — 24; Dancers — 5; Chorus 25; Children's chorus, Tues, Thurs, Sat -14; Children's chorus, Wed, Fri — 13. Technical and musical support — 37
That is 93 people, not including the Scouts who sold the programmes and the 'Friends of the Theatre Group' who did the refreshments!
(I am delighted to say that in this and the following production of Dick Whittington, my two children were part of the children's chorus. My son went on to be a Drama teacher — did it all start here I wonder?)
Over the year of course, society changes and so do tastes. A whole new raft of entertainment possibilities emerged, in film, TV and then of course, there was the digital/internet revolution. The summer productions started to attract fewer people and it was proving harder and harder to get the main production put together.
Stuart McNeil, who, after many years treading the boards had taken on the role of director — (and writer and adaptor) realised that the 2002 production of Cinderella would have to be their last. Despite those difficulties, that production raised just over £2000 for the Community Centre funds.
Stuart McNeil says "I joined the Pantomime Group by accident when my daughters persuaded me to come along and paint scenery. Edna heard me singing and in a couple of weeks I suddenly found myself playing ....Silly Billy! I became totally absorbed. I had many memorable moments...sometimes we laughed until we cried and sometimes we cried until we could laugh again. Great times"
Though the Theatre Group folded the Community Centre's commitment to good theatre remains. The arrival of the Ashton Hayes Theatre group in 2009 brought high class amateur productions back to Tarvin, and the collaboration as a promoter with Cheshire Rural Touring Arts sees high class, innovative professional drama on the stage. But nothing quite matches the fun, the excitement and the sheer joyousness of good, old fashioned village theatricals.
The Community Centre is looking to put on an exhibition of the history of the group, so if you have any memorabilia that you think would be of interest and you are willing to share with others, give Sue Hardacre a call on 01829 741962.
Those who took part should look back with pride at the pleasure they brought the village, and those of us who seek to carry on the tradition of good theatre should take time to remember just where all this started.
The Pantomime tradition still exists in other villages, Tattenhall does a production that involves a similar large group of people. So, Tarvin, can this tradition be revived here?